by Tim Froberg
Leaf peepers often refer to Wisconsin’s gorgeous fall foliage season as Showtime.
It’s also harvest time for Wisconsin farmers like the Gasch family — a busy period when their retail business booms.
The Gasch’s own and operate Heritage Orchard in Chilton: a large apple orchard, farm, and store that is open for retail business until October 31. Heritage Orchard is open to the public just a few months each year (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily), and they launched another season on August 28.
Heritage Orchard overlooks Lake Winnebago’s east shore and is spread over 120 acres, 15 dedicated to apples. The apples can be handpicked by customers or bought at the retail store where they are grated and washed before packing. Heritage Orchard also sells produce each Saturday at the Appleton Farm Market.
Fresh apples are clearly the star of the Heritage show with 20 varieties available such as Haralred, Zestar!, McIntosh, Cortland, Red and Golden Delicious, and Honeycrisp. But there is much more. Pumpkins are also grown and sold (either pick your own or choose from selected ones) and the retail store offers a full line of tasty products such as apple cider, syrups, caramel apples, honey, gourds, mustards, jams, and jellies along with pies, cookies, turnovers, and the house specialty, apple cider doughnuts.
The apple cider is an 11-time first-place winner at the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association’s Cider Contest. The baked goods are produced at an onsite bakery.
“Our cider doughnuts are one of our best sellers,” said Vern Gasch, who owns and runs the business along with his wife, Ann, and sons, Adam and Torry. “They’re always in huge demand.”
Vern and Ann purchased Heritage Orchard in 1976. The orchards were launched in 1947, and Vern’s parents were involved in some of the original planting, care, and operations.
Although the retail store part is open just a few months, Vern and his family work year-round raising and maintaining the crop. They spend considerable time pruning the apple trees during the winter and spraying the crop during the spring months to prevent insect damage. Pumpkins are planted during the spring.
“The apples look great in the fall when they’re ripe and ready to go, but we spend the entire year on them,” Vern said. “It’s like any business. Some days are more fun than others. But it’s been very fulfilling. To be able to have our sons involved has been really nice for us.”
Heritage Orchard has become a prominent part of the Chilton community and is an ideal stop for both locals and tourists taking in the fall colors.
“Wow. My wife and I were looking forward to this stop on our way back home from traveling the U.P. but we never imagined what a gem this really was,” read a review on the Heritage Orchard website. “The owner, Vern, and the entire staff were over-the-top helpful to everyone who entered the store. The store was full of everything one could imagine related to apples and unique gifts, and the baked goods were over-the-top delicious. Can’t wait to come back again.”